I listened to the latest episode of Shut Up, We’re Talking last night and an interesting topic came up that’s too intriguing to pass on discussing. Generalizing will oversimplify the topic, so here’s a piece of the question that was asked, “is that effort [you put into your character] yours in any concrete way” and, branching off from that, does an MMO company have the right to delete your data whenever they want?
Opinions on the show were varied but the essential feeling seemed to boil down to this: your character represents all of the time, effort, and emotion you’ve put into a game; the last thing a player wants to see is that effort wiped away. One of the hosts, Karen, went so far as to say she’d pay a dollar a month to make sure her characters on a previous game weren’t deleted. Ferrel, of Epic Slant, admitted that he’d be upset if his original Everquest characters were deleted, even though he has no plans to returning to the game.
I empathize with these feelings. Even though I don’t plan on returning to the MUD I used to play, I’d be upset if my character there were deleted. Yet, I wouldn’t be angry. More than anything, I’d feel like I lost something, a piece of my history and the virtual me for a good chunk of my teenage years. I identified with that character, it would sadden me to know I could never step back into his shoes again, even if I wanted to.
But, to answer the first question, I don’t think we have any concrete right to our characters as long as we’re paying. MMOs are a service and characters are rented tools. As players, we might project more onto them than that, and I don’t think we’d be wrong for doing so, but, at the end of the day, they’re vehicles to get we the player from point A to point B. That’s certainly how a company will see it. We don’t own our characters, so, if I tried to eBay my old Fury warrior on WoW, I’d be breaking Blizzard’s EULA.
So, what about when we’re not paying? I’m not subscribed to WoW right now but I’d be upset if they deleted my old main character. The difference is between player entitlements and good business practices. If I’m not paying for the service of the game, I’m not entitled to anything within it. Yet, it’d still be a bad idea for them to delete my data because, in my mind, it would eliminate the option of going back in the future. I have no interest in re-leveling from the beginning. I might do it on my own at some point but if I’m going to be made to do it, that’s another story. It’s in a company’s best interest to hold onto that data for as long as they can and try to bait back the players who’ve left.
But, to answer the second question, the company has the right to delete what they want, when they want. It might not be a good idea if they want to keep their players happy but, in truth, the sum of our efforts is in tables of numbers on someone else’s computer. We add and remove numbers in the form of weapons and armor and levels but, so long as they hold the file, they can delete it when they choose; they are the owner of the computer and the owner of that file. All that legal speak we have to agree to to play gives them that right and leaves us with only server access… and even that’s not guaranteed.
Maybe I’m off base here but that’s my opinion. We’re not really entitled to anything, as long as we’re paying. But, if I’m handing them a monthly payment, I expect upkeep the same way I expect it from my cable company. I don’t think I’d pay extra to keep my old characters around. Right now, I hold out good faith that they will. Otherwise, it’s just one more game dropping of my list and that’d be a shame.